School Education, Work and Poverty: Time to cry, time to act

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By Amar Yumnam

There are reports that people are withdrawing themselves from the work force and leading life on temporary works. This is of the United States of America. It may or may not be the utopian vision of Karl Marx for “to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner …” The position here in our part of the world is very different; people are looking for work and they are not finding it. Here the situation is one of pure unemployment and never a case of exercising options.

It is exactly in this connection that we should collectively and individually apply our mind on what is happening in our school education sector. I recently attended the wedding of a good friend of mine. He was in the same local school with me. Then and now too on hindsight, I felt he was damn interested in learning and getting education to the highest possible level. Unlike many others, he never tried to cheat on his enthusiasm with education. But his family was known for extreme poverty in the locality where we all grew. Despite his eagerness and extreme enthusiasm, the family could not sustain the affordability of his education. He dropped out before long. What really pains me is that poverty gets inherited. Despite his labour and hard work, the escape from the extreme poverty inherited from his parents is only marginal. His daughter who got married recently could still be under the parental care and undisturbed with the familial responsibilities. A very lively, lovable and sweet young teenage she is, but her getting married could not stop me from feeling if she was trying to escape from the inherited poverty of her own parents. Was she feeling that she could not see a silver lining in the home with her own parents? Was it poverty that had forced her to go for the universally societal way of getting married with one’s partner for life?

It is exactly again in such situation that we are getting information on what goes on with the schools in Manipur. We understand that any family, which can afford, sends the child to the private school. It is only in private schools that a semblance of teaching and learning is found. While all the local schools which have nurtured about two/three generations with robust education have by now become failed centres of learning as government schools. A very good friend of mine recently narrated to me details of what is currently going on in these very schools. One can only cry to hear all these.

Almost all the local schools were all private schools with local patronage and most under the leadership of the genuine social workers committed to societal transformation; these social transformers were all characteristically different fundamentally from the ‘social workers’’ of today. The commitment and enthusiasm of the teachers were all sublime. The togetherness and competition among the students were fundamentally social changers.

Now when all these schools have all been nationalised and ensure availability of well-paid teachers and funds for development, the quality and commitment of these to the cause of education have become absolute suspects. The administrative paraphernalia governing these schools are now at various hierarchical levels of government. While the schools were delivering under local governance and local support, they have utterly failed to do so under the soft-budgetary support of the government. On the contrary, the atmosphere of cheating, bluff and mis-governance have become inherent.

We have nothing to worry if it is only the wastage of public funds, but the damage is very social and highly unfortunate. Still few students do attend these schools. Here we have many points to worry about. First, it must be clear to all of that all these are from the families of the most downtrodden; they are from families which have no capability to mobilise any funding to send the children to the private schools. Secondly, in all probability, they are from families with inherited poverty. Or they must be from families which have suffered some huge setbacks.

Given these realities, the onus is on the state to see to it that these minority children (as majority now go to private schools) get every possible care so that they get the best possible educational care. Remember, education is the best and surest way to escape from poverty. Fortunately, there is now a policy for providing books, uniform and food supplements to children attending these schools. However, it is definitely here that the most unfortunate thing happens.

There is fundamentality for ensuring that the children do fall in love with the school they are attending with whatever possible interventions. These are found in the private schools in one form or the other and at one level or the other. But in the case of the government schools, with all the layers of administrative structure and budgetary support, all these are absent in these very schools attended by the most downtrodden of the downtrodden. There have been budgetary sanctions for uniforms, books and what not, but these are actually the things unavailable in these schools.

In other words, the way government schools function and deliver today is nothing but to ensure continuance of poverty and inheritance of it by the future generations of children of poor families. Now this is no way to allow education to continue. While the government schools should be most competitive, they are in reality made to suffer from non-committed governance which is rather busy with other objectives to pursue. If we want removal of poverty from the soil of Manipur, we must all mobilise our intelligence and demand governance cleaning-up in our government schools. Let us love the poor and downtrodden.

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